“Thanks for meeting with me, today, Dad,” said the tow-headed six year old as he strode across the study, arm extended for a firm handshake.
Smiling, the father grasped the child’s hand, assuming a hug would follow. When none did, he stood, somewhat dismayed, as his son took the chair opposite the imposing mahogany desk and motioned for him to take his accustomed place behind it.
Oh. This was going to be one of those conversations.
“I only have about five minutes,” said the boy, briskly, as he clicked open the latches on his caramel brown leather brief case and withdrew two copies of a neatly typed agenda, “so let’s get down to business.”
“First, as I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’d like you to get me that big shiny motorcycle I’ve been wanting. And would you please hurry up about it? I’ve been asking for that bike for a long time, and I don’t understand why you haven’t given it to me yet.”
Again with the motorcycle? Doesn’t this kid get that he’s six? There’s no way he could handle a bike that large and powerful, and I love him too much to see his guts splattered all over the pavement. Yeah, that’s gonna be a big, fat “no.”
“Next,” the boy hurried on, “I’m kinda in a jam. You see, there’s this big spelling test tomorrow, and I haven’t had time to study for it. Could you sit by me in class tomorrow and give me all the answers?”
Haven’t had time? Yesterday he played video games for two hours, and the day before that I heard him throwing a tennis ball up against the side of the house all afternoon!
“And finally, Sparky seems to be limping around lately. Could you take a look at his paw and fix it up with some of that special cream?”
Well…sure. You know I’m always glad to help, but…
“Thanks for everything, Dad,” the boy chirped as he hopped off his chair and headed for the door, “I’ve got to run. See you later!”
I can just see that Dad standing there, forlorn, missing his son. The son who lives under the same roof with him. The son he watches play ball, play with his friends, and achieve the great feats of six year olds. The son who never really talks to him.
The father longs to have an intimate, “Daddy’s home!” relationship with his child. To have his son run up, give him a hug, and jump in his lap to tell Dad all about his day. He wants to share his child’s joys and sorrows. He wants to hear his heart.
And if the child really thought about it—or even knew such a relationship could exist—he’d want the same thing.
We can have that kind of joyous relationship with our Heavenly Father. It really is possible.
Well, think about how you relate to the person you love the most in the world. Because you love that person, you want to spend time with him. You’re relaxed around each other. You enjoy being together. You share everything—your deepest secrets, your regrets, your hopes for the future, your concerns for others, your frustrations, your joys, your sorrows, even the mundane, day to day happenings of life.
You’ve probably never read a book, taken a class, or attended a lecture on how to talk to that special someone. And you’ve probably never made a list of conversation topics for your next get-together with him. This is a friendship, not a business meeting.
Now think about how our connection to God is illustrated in Scripture. He’s called our Father (Matthew 6:9); Jesus is our brother (Matthew 12:50) and our friend (John 15:14); the church is the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7). These are the most intimate relationships we know, and they’re used to describe a bond of love and friendship with God.
So, why do we have so much trouble talking to Him? Why is it that, so often, what’s supposed to be a heartfelt conversation with God feels like a one-sided recitation of a laundry list of prayer requests?
In some ways, we’ve done it to ourselves. There are thousands of books, Bible studies, and other materials on how to pray. Preachers preach on it. Teachers teach on it. There are acronyms you can follow, lists you can make, prayer calendars, even apps and on-line prayer organizers. None of these things are inherently bad, in fact, some are excellent—I’ve used and recommended some of them, myself.
But, I think that, sometimes, when faced with all of these resources and methodologies, one of two things can happen. First, you can become paralyzed by all the choices, not know which one to choose, and give up on prayer because you think it’s too complicated. Or, you might try to use too many prayer resources and become overwhelmed because they don’t work for you or you can’t keep up with all of them. Second, you can fall into the trap of thinking you have to use some sort of prayer resource or methodology. You can become enslaved to the structure, and that stands between you and intimacy with God like a brick wall.
May I make a suggestion here?
Throw out the lists. Put away the prayer calendar. Turn off the app.
Just talk to your Father. Talk to Him like He’s the person you love most in the world. Pour out what’s on your heart to Him.
If you’re not sure how to do that or what to say or whether you might be doing it wrong, tell Him about that, and ask Him to help you. It’s OK to ask God to show you how to talk to Him. The disciples did, and Jesus gladly obliged (Luke 11:1-13).
Don’t become paralyzed by the number of prayer requests you think you have to keep up with, either. I know that some churches have prayer lists a mile long, plus prayer calendars for missionaries, and you have friends and relatives asking you to pray for certain things. Sometimes, our prayer time can feel like we’re the office flunky armed with a long list of orders being sent out to pick up lunch for everybody. “Get those orders right! Don’t forget anything!” But prayer is not about completing a checklist of everyone else’s concerns. It’s about you and God, and it should be governed by God, not ruled by a list.
Wait a minute. This is starting to sound selfish. Aren’t we supposed to pray for others? Well, yes…and, no. What we’re supposed to do is to submit ourselves and our prayer time to God’s word and the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
That sounds great, but what does it mean in practical terms?
- Study God’s word before you pray. As you do, He’ll begin leading you to the things He wants you to pray about.
- Ask God what to pray about. Often, I’ll open a prayer meeting by praying that God will lead our prayer time and that He will put all the things on our hearts that He wants us to pray about.
- Resist the list. Trust God to lead you to the things He wants you to pray about, and let your conversation with Him flow freely from your heart. Don’t worry about forgetting something on your prayer list.
- Prayer time isn’t self-contained. Usually, my praying for others is done throughout the day rather than during my set prayer time. When someone asks me to pray for something, I’ll stop right then and do it. There are certain missionaries and other Christian ministries that I pray for when I receive an e-mail or Facebook update from them. Most of the time, unless God lays something on my heart during my personal prayer time, I only pray for requests on the church prayer list during the prayer meeting in which I receive them.
Relax. Just talk to Him.
“…the prayer of the upright is His delight.” Proverbs 15:8